Ponds can add beauty and interest to your landscape. Consider the following tips before making the decision to build your pond.
Decide if you want a pond or a water feature. The distinction is simple, but important. Ponds are miniature ecosystems with plants, animals and microorganisms working in harmony to achieve balance. Ponds are alive and require different care; all need to be circulated in the summer and aerated in the winter. Some require filtration and feeding, but ponds reward the extra effort handsomely. The sights and sounds of a pond can enchant like no other landscape element.
Water features showcase the water, not its inhabitants, and include fountains, lighted waterfalls and other artistic elements. Unlike ponds, water features can be turned on and off at will, drained for cleaning, even scrubbed out with bleach. They're typically lower maintenance than ponds since you never have to weed or feed them.
Check with your local building department or code enforcement to see if there are any codes governing your pond, and plan to meet those requirements. Local ordinances may restrict depth or access, mandate setbacks or fencing or require a permit or inspection. Have your gas, electric, cable and phone lines marked out, free of charge, by calling 811. You'll know exactly where and where not to dig, saving you time, trouble and liability. And you'll avoid dangerous contact with gas and electric lines.
Once you know what you're allowed to build and where all the invisible hazards are, give some serious thought to the style of your water feature. Consider the following types of ponds:
The Water Garden
Are you an admirer of paintings of water lilies? Does your perfect pond feature contain masses of fragrant, multicolored blooms reflected in still water? Then you might want what's often called a water garden, where lilies, lotus, irises and other gorgeous plants are the featured stars. Fish are just there to help balance the pond and control insects.
The Koi Pond
When envisioning your dream pond, do you picture the Japanese carp, commonly known as the Koi fish, swimming serenely? Koi can be affectionate, long-lived pets, but the many rewards come at a cost. They've been bred to be fed as domesticated animals. Koi eat a lot and grow quickly, so a regular feeding schedule and a good filtration system are necessary. They'll often devour any plants they can reach, so it's more challenging to use plants to help keep the water clear. With their messy habits and the demands of full-time pets, this type of pond requires more attention than a water garden.
The Garden Pond
Combine the beautiful plantings of the water garden with clouds of shimmering goldfish darting to and fro, and you can have the best of both worlds. Goldfish easily feed themselves in a well-planted pond without destroying the water lilies. They learn to come to the surface for treats, but you're not tied to a schedule. The plants in the pond absorb fish wastes and shade out algae, keeping water clear and algae blooms to a minimum. The garden pond makes it much easier to achieve a balance that rewards the pondkeeper with blooms and beautiful fish with a minimum of maintenance, so it's the most popular choice. It's also a great choice for a beginner.
Check out the Web for photos and information about the type of pond you'd like. Contact local resources — such as your county cooperative extension, a regional koi club or nearby botanical garden — to help with advice on minimum depth, critters to watch out for, plants to use or avoid and all the other questions you may have after you build your pond. The more you know going in, the better your project will come out.
Where you put your pond is the most important decision in the whole process, since you don't want to move it later. Proper siting will reduce maintenance and safety concerns and enhance your enjoyment of the pond.
Site the pond where it will get four to six hours of sunlight, for a good balance of light to shade. Don't site the pond in full sun, to avoid overheating and algae issues or full shade, where water lilies and other ornamental plants won't bloom.
Make sure you have access to electric service for a pump, an ultraviolet (UV) filter, ornamental lights and water. You'll need a dedicated outlet that's protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) installed by a licensed electrician. You'll also need access to water, so think about where your hose bib and sprinkler lines are. Don't site the pond where there could be unrestricted access by children or pets. Make sure you check local ordinances regarding fencing requirements before building.
Set the pond lower in the landscape when possible rather than at the top of a rise. Don't set the pond at the lowest spot in the yard, where runoff could wash in fertilizer or lawn chemicals, upsetting the ecosystem, causing algae blooms or killing plants and fish.
Place the pond where you can easily see and enjoy it, from a vantage point on a deck, patio or from a kitchen or living room window. Don't create an attractive nuisance by siting it near a playground or other public space where kids or pets might be drawn to it.
In general, the best practice to create a balanced, easy-to -maintain pond with a minimum of effort is to work with Mother Nature instead of against her. The following tips will help you achieve this goal.
Use aquatics, like water lilies and lotus, in the pond and marginal species, like irises and dwarf cattails in bogs, to help keep the pond sparkling clear and healthy. If you can either cover 60% of the surface of the water with plants or create bogs whose surface area adds up to about 30% of the pond's surface area, your pond's water will stay clear and clean on its own. You'll still have to circulate it and pull out dead vegetation, but maintenance will be minimal as long as you don't overfeed.
Create bogs along the pond's edge by excavating shallow shelves above water level and lining them so that all the water you pump into them will flow back into the pond. Fill them with only 4 to 6 inches of clean, washed gravel, kept from washing in by some larger stones, and set the plants directly from their pots into the gravel. The soil they're in will keep them alive until they can start to remove nitrates from the pond water. Install a tee on the main line, or put in a separate small pump to dump water from the pond into the planted gravel to create an active bog that will starve out algae and filter the water.
Plan, and plant, the pond area as part of a surrounding landscape. Don't just drop a hole in the lawn somewhere. A water source in nature will have aquatics in the water, marginal plants at the edges and various terrestrial species radiating out away from the water, which should tie in to the rest of the plantings on the site.
Keep the sides of the pond as vertical as possible down to a flat, level shelf about 18 inches deep all around the pond. This will allow you to get in and out of knee-deep water when necessary but discourage herons and raccoons from preying on your fish by denying them the beaches they love to wade in on. Avoid beaches to help eliminate string algae and mosquito issues, while the 18-inch-deep shelf is perfect for your water lilies to sit on.
Don't overfeed your fish. The most common mistake pondkeepers make is overfeeding. Those nutrients go into the water after they come out of the fish, and they'll feed lots of plants. If you don't have lots of plants, the nutrients will feed lots of algae.
Finally, follow the manufacturer's instructions.